Taking an interest in cemeteries


Years ago at Sam Houston State University, one of the most interesting classes I took was one about cemeteries, burial customs, and such.  If I can trust my memory, Dr. Gary Hood taught the class.  My interest in cemeteries began there.  

A few weeks ago, I was looking at information about burials at Willowhole Cemetery and ran across something about a man who died at the age of 21, and his tombstone indicated he was a doctor.  That piqued my interest but I didn’t write down anything.  When I had time, I went back to learn more.  I scrolled through many of the 2,834 listings for the cemetery’s graves before I found what I was hunting, and long before I located it, I’d found many more things of interest. 

In 1994, the Texas Historical Commission placed a historical marker at the cemetery.  It reads, “This community was settled in the 1850s and named for a nearby spring-fed hollow. The cemetery served as a community graveyard for the town, which until the early 1900s contained businesses, schools, and churches. The first recorded burial here was that of Mary J. Burts in 1866. A cemetery association was founded in 1917 about the time annual July 4 picnics began. In 1977 a fund for perpetual maintenance was established. Among the more than 2,600 people buried here are pioneers of the area and their descendants and veterans of conflicts from the Civil War to Vietnam.”

Willowhole was a thriving community for many years, but now the cemetery and its chapel are all that’s left.  To get there, one must take FM 39 south from North Zulch about two miles, to FM 1372, and then go east about three-quarters of a mile. 

The 21-year-old physician who attracted my attention was Dr. Stephen Walter Jackson (1878-1899), who was born and died in Texas. His parents, Enoch M. Jackson (1835-1906) and Martha A. Elizabeth Sandlin Jackson (1838-1907), were born in Alabama and later made Willowhole their home.  Information indicated they had six children, including Dr. Jackson, the next-to-youngest. He and his younger brother were the only two born in Texas, so apparently the parents brought their family to Texas sometime between 1870, when an older sibling was born in Alabama, and 1878, when Stephen was born here.  Both parents are also buried at Willowhole, as are the doctor’s older sisters, Emma Jackson Dowell and Sarah Ethel Jackson Wallace.  There is nothing to indicate that Dr. Jackson ever married or had a child, but that’s not impossible, it could have happened and not been entered at Findagrave.    

In scrolling through the Willowhole burials, I wasn’t a bit surprised to see many Denmans, Donahos, McWhorters, Shannons, and Zulches, to name a few.  The Utechts and Valentas were new to me.  Many of the “given” names fascinated me, including females Zella, Louvenia, Palmyra, Myvourleen, Lorindy, Almindia, and Alcelina.  Some given names popular in recent years were on older graves, like Blake (1885), Logan (1903), Sophie (1912), and Phoebe (1912), but when was the last time we heard of an infant named Minerva, Archibald, Hugo, Matthias, Elbert, or Ebenezer? 

I enjoyed seeing the graves of James (1912-1993) and “Cricket” (1909-1994) Fuhlberg, a couple who who distributed homemade popcorn balls for my childhood Halloweens.  James’s grandparents, Charles J.F. Fuhlberg (1817-1889) and Ammarintha McRae Fuhlberg (1834-1906), are buried at Bethel Cemetery, just over the Grimes County line and as the crow flies, not too far from Willowhole.  James’s father, Gustave, was born in Madison County in 1866, died in 1938 of lung cancer, and was buried at Willowhole.   He shared a tombstone with both his wives, Sophia Lang Fuhlberg (1865-1907) and Mary Boswell Fuhlberg (1878-1938). The first wife gave birth to 6 children, with only one living to adulthood.  Gravestones for the other five show 1891-1897, 1892-1894, 1895-1897, 1896-1896, and 1897-1898.  There had to have been such heartbreak! The second wife bore only one child, my friend James Fuhlberg.

Years ago, many men were named after past presidents or heroes.  Willowhole Cemetery holds the grave of Jefferson Davis Rogers, unsurprising born in 1861 when a more famous Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederacy, and dying in 1945.  It’s also the final resting place for men with the first and middle names of Grover Cleveland (3), Thomas Jefferson (3), George Washington (4), and one each of Andrew Jackson and Samuel Houston.   There are also two John Quincy Adams (whole name) there, a man and his grandson.  John Quincy Adams (1852-1933) was born in Madisonville, was a stockman, and died of static pneumonia, with a poisonous bite from a tick or spider being a contributing cause.  Findagrave did not reveal as much about his grandson, also John Quincy Adams, who was born in Texas in 1909, died in Houston in 1967, and was brought back to Willowhole for burial. 

Willowhole even contains the grave of Julius Caesar – with the last name of Cheatham, that is.  He was born in Alabama in 1848 and died in Madison County in 1913.  He married Mary Eugenia Cammack, born and died in Madison County (1848-1933).  They had three sons and four daughters, with one daughter marrying to become a Fuhlberg, another a Poss, and two took Buckhaults grooms.

There is also a grave marker at Willowhole for “an unknown Finnish male”, born 1875 in Finland and died December 20, 1905, in Madison County.  His death certificate, signed by Dr. A. Barlow, notes the cause of death as heart failure with syphilis as a contributing factor.  If word of that got around in the North Zulch area in 1905, I’m figuring it caused quite a stir. 

Two other grave stones there don’t reveal much, with both homemade of concrete with lettering scratched by something like a nail.  One shows simply the letters “MOS”, while the other shows “SNC” and “September 7, 1989”. 

Too many grave markers show sadly short lives.  John Townsend Taylor (1850-1897) married twice.  His first wife, Emiline Gemima Cryer (1855-1884), gave him 2 sons that lived to adulthood, but they were only 5 and 7 years old when their mother died.   The marker for the couple’s daughter, Minnie Emiline, only shows “___-March 8, 1884”, meaning she survived her mother exactly 2 months. Taylor then married Mary Frances Vernon (1862-1908), and they had 7 children.  John Henry Taylor (1898-1975), the only one of those 7 to live to become an adult, lost his mother when he was only 10.  Markers for his full siblings include “infant son Taylor 1886-1886”, “infant son Taylor 1890-1890”, “Charlie O. Taylor 1894-1897”, “infant daughter 1895-1895”, “infant son Taylor 1896-1896”,  and John Wesley Taylor 1897-1898”.  I’m figuring the grief shown in those numbers contributed to the mother’s death at age 46. 

Some folks still recall Dr. Aaron Elbert Denman, 1881-1959.  He was born in Madison County, lived in Iola at the time of his death in Navasota, and of course buried at Willowhole. 

Findagrave gave a lot of info for Dr. Margaret Doucet ditte Lacombe Ball, born on Bayou Mallet in Louisiana on November 13, 1802. (A History of Madison County, Volume 1, shows 1803).  Our county history book stays her maiden name was Ferdinand.  She was not yet 14 when she married Jacob Hook on May 21, 1816.  The couple had a daughter that died quite young and a son that grew up and remained in Louisiana.  Hook died mid-1821.  In 1824, Margaret made an ill-fated marriage to Major James Ball, and they had a son, Ferdinand James Ball, in December that year. The Ball’s union ended in permanent separation before 1830.  (Our county history book says they divorced.)

Mother and son Ferdinand came to Texas from Louisiana, but sources disagree on the exact time.  Our county history book says they came from Mississippi in a wagon train in1845, settling in northern Grimes County in 1848, and that part became the southern part of Madison County in 1852. 

Findagrave states that “Generations of descendants in Texas have known her only as “Margaret Ball.” Family tradition recalls her “as a French-speaking Creole, one who was born a Catholic but died a Baptist.  She was petite, with long and wavy black hair and a feisty temper.  To the needy, she was a doctor, healing the sick, setting bones, making medicine.” 

She was known locally as ‘Dr. Margaret’.  She was adept at going into the fields and woods and gathering certain leaves, bark, and roots for brewing tea and making poultices to treat the sick and wounded.  She was also a midwife.  I have found nothing that tells where she learned any of those skills. 

Soon after arriving in Texas, Ferdinand Ball married Sarah Curtis Ball in Anderson soon after coming to Texas, and he and his wife had 8 children between 1854 and 1870.  None of those received any formal education.  “They all learned their “three Rs” out of necessity in their chosen fields of endeavor.”

Ferdinand farmed in partnership with his mother and was a teamster, driving a freight wagon for Julius Zulch.  In 1862, he enlisted in Gould’s Battalion, 23rdrd Regiment, Texas Cavalry, of the Confederate States of America.  When his unit was disbanded in 1865, he signed his “Parole of Honor” and went back to farming.  In 1873, he bought 16 acres of land from David M. Donaho in the vicinity of the old Bundic crossing on the Navasota River. 

At Findagrave it says “Above all, she (Dr. Ball) was devoted to her son, Ferdinand James Ball …When Ferdinand died on 11 January 1874, she grieved herself to death and was buried beside him just days later.”  Mother and son were members of the Sand Prairie Baptist Church of George community.  In 1876, Sarah Curtis Ball, sold the farm and moved with her children to Goliad be near her Curtis kinsmen living there. 

One of Sarah’s and Ferdinand’s sons was James Ferdinand Ball (Jr.).  A year before his father’s death, he had married Tennysee Donaho, daughter of Daniel and Julia Ann Lewis Donaho.  James and Tennysee went with his mother to Goliad but came back to Madison County in 1887, to farm and operate a grocery store in the Cottonwood area.  In 1900 they moved to Houston. 

Three of James and Tennysee’s children married in Madison County and raised families here.  Sally Ann Ball (1874-1958), married John David Rumfield (1872-1954).  The Rumfield children included Ferdinand (who was a rodeo pickup man here for years and married Bertha Shannon, who became the Bertha Rumfield who taught here for years) and Effie Elizabeth Rumfield, who married Carlton Hibbetts (they became Sally Kankey’s parents).  Samuel Ball (1876-1958) married Marda Smith, Mary Ball (1878-1957), married Maxia Clarence Keefer, and both of those couples had several children.

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX, is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Call 936.348.5230 and make arrangements to meet with me to share your own stories, or e-mail them to madcomuseum@hotmail.com